Was the Question Who's the Gimpy Chucker With the Cornrows?
Game 54: Vs. Denver: Spurs 95, Nuggets 80
Holy crap! Our boys came charging out of the gates after the All-Star break just as resoundingly gung-ho as they barreled into it, beating the holy hell out of the rich & creamies. Not only was the final score much closer than the “contest” actually played out, thanks to a 32-16 spankin’ of Beno and his fellow scrubs in the fourth, but even more importantly the big three all had the luxury of being bored spectators like the rest of us for the final twelve minutes. With nobody playing more than 25 mins against Denver, why call me crazy, but I think we’ve got a decent shot to come out of the ATL with a Dub. Ya heard?
Okay, I’ll stop that now.
Anyway, I know there are a handful of reasons out there for me not to make too much of our recent play in general and the Nugs game in particular. Count ‘em off with me… 1) First game after the All-Star break and Carmelo and AI were probably exhausted/hung over/sluggish 2) Iverson had a gimpy ankle 3) The two of them still aren’t used to each other 4) J.R. Smith hardly played 5) Our geezers were well rested 6) Our guys wanted to put on a good performance for the home fans whom they haven’t seen in a month, etc., etc.
Or maybe, just maybe we’re way better than them.
79-48 after three quarters better? No. But maybe the coach has slowly figured a few things out, through trial and error and we’re finally on our way to squeezing all of the juice from the fruit. For example, the Fabricio Oberto as Starting Center experiment is over. He’s neither big nor athletic enough to match up against the opposing five on most nights and our interior defense suffered for it. He’s much better suited to be a 15 minute “energy guy” like a slightly bigger version of Najara. Elson on the other end won’t be outquicked or outhopped by too many bigs outside of Howard and Amare, he can knock down the occasional jumper and his length is better suited to both challenge shots and clean the glass. Oberto is the better offensive rebounder, but for our club getting back in transition and limiting the opposition to one contested shot has always been the main thing.
Also, I think making Manu the sixth man was the right move in so many ways. For one, it shows that Pop might be making the concession that playing him and Tony together is like fitting a square peg into a round hole. I don’t know how much longer I could have watched if Ginobili kept starting night after night and checked out of the 1st quarter at the six minute mark with zero field goal attempts. By playing as few minutes as possible with Parker, Manu gets to be the number one option when he is on the court and a lot of the time it’s against the other team’s second unit or their weary starters. Now it’s like watching rookie Manu all over again, in terms of mentality. No more tentativeness, no more pacing himself, no more “throwing it in to Timmy to establish the low post game” it’s just get the ball and go – but with the bonus that now he knows what he’s doing out there (took him about 100 NBA games to figure the league out). Best of all, making him a reserve allows Pop to keep at least one of the big three on the floor at all times unless it’s a blowout. We’ve suffered too many runs against us late in the 1st and 3rd quarters this year when all three were on the pine.
Being a starter is not helping Brent’s game any, but with Tony and Tim out there, we don’t need too much scoring. Just having him camping out behind the line and spacing the floor helps Duncan out and it removes the angst of having to get the third guy shots just to keep him in the flow of the game, which is way more of a concern with Manu. Brent doesn’t need shots. He just needs to be an open outlet.
I think Pop’s figured Horry out too. For one, he doesn’t even bother with him on segababas. There’s no point to it, he just can’t do it. But for regular games, Pop is treating RoHo like a rook – you don’t play D and hit the boards, you don’t play. Horry’s intensity on defense has been noticeably higher these past dozen games or so and he’s really been making an effort on crashing the glass. The results aren’t always there, but I’ve noticed the effort. I would estimate at least ¾ of the energy he’s expending in games these days have been at our own end. On offense Pop doesn’t care what he does, figuring he has enough sense to not keep jacking shots if they’re not going in.
Finally, I am coming around on the Jacque Vaughn thing. I’m not totally convinced I’m wrong yet, but the team’s second unit is playing noticeably better with Vaughn than when Beno ran the show. Jacque has always been known for his defense, so that helps to limit the damage opponents inflict upon us when Timmy’s not out there. Even if we’re not scoring, the other guys aren’t going on huge runs. Udrih cannot do that. But on offense Vaughn seems to have a good handle of his strengths and weaknesses and doesn’t force anything. Mostly he just hands it to Manu and gets the hell out of the way. But even with the ball in his hands, he’s been good about not wasting possessions. In his last six games as the number two, he’s got 15 assists and 2 turnovers. And like Avery used to do it, he only takes shots from the perimeter when he’s totally, completely ridiculously open. As far as sheer ability there’s no question Beno is superior, but Pop had squashed all the confidence out of him and he can’t move on the floor without thinking about it, looking over his shoulder after every mistake. Vaughn is too old to care about any of that and he certainly won’t be intimidated by a coach or anyone else. He knows he’s a reserve, he knows he has limited skills and he plays when they tell him to play and sits when they tell him to sit. There’s no emotional roller coaster with him. I don’t fear the specter of having Vaughn as our backup point in the playoffs because unlike Nick Van Excrement he’ll play D and he won’t take any awful threes.
As for the Thuggets, they don’t seem to have any clue how to play together. Iverson and ‘Yelo have the physical ability to play D, but no inclination to do so. Najara and the Nutcracker have the desire, but not the talent. Their only guy who has both is Camby, but he’s always hurt. Meanwhile the same guys are never on the floor because of injuries, they can’t establish any continuity and their overrated coach is under the impression that he can turn this rag-tag bunch into a Diet Coke version of the Suns. The problem there is that they don’t have anywhere near the three point shooting, “Dewey” Blake isn’t exactly Steve Nash and they don’t have anybody who can score inside easily like Amare or a versatile do-everything guy like Marion. In my opinion the team for the Nugs to emulate should be the Rockets – two main scorers, everyone else a role player, defense paramount above all.
If Karl is half the coach he thinks he is, he’s got to get it into his stars’ heads to play harder in their own end. Bench them if you have to. But they’ve got to slow the pace way down and limit the
number of possessions in a game. They don’t have the teamwide athleticism or shooting to run and gun and both Iverson and Anthony aren’t efficient enough scorers to pull it out – they’re volume shooters. Like Barkley said the other night, they’re not good enough to outscore anybody good. Their only chance, no matter how futile it looks, is to play harder than their opponents for the full 94 feet. Realistically though, if they even make the playoffs, they’ll be cannon fodder for Dallas or Phoenix.
Your 3 Stars
3. Bruce Bowen – Helped to limit AI and Anthony to a combined 24 points and had a sweet stuff on the latter. Even scored a bit for once.
2. Tony Parker – A couple of ridiculous lay-ups as always, but really shined on defense, doing a masterful job of keeping Iverson in front of him. Even had a steal from the seat of his pants.
1. Manu Ginobili – Did the brunt of his damage in the 2nd quarter to push the Spurs ahead for good and finished an ungodly + 28 in 19 minutes. Neither him or Tim had a turnover either. Don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen again.
Record: 36-18 Streak: W-3
Up Next: @ Atlanta Hawks
Right back on the plane they go to the dirty south. Segababaoppacrappas haven’t been much of a problem this year and I’m not expecting this one to be any different. The Hawks interior defense is atrocious and they’re not scoring much either. Plus they yesterday too. P.S. If you want my take on All-Star Saturday night (plus the Pistons game), here you go…
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